Cavalry CampaignerRecommended Equipment for the Federal Cavalry Reenactor
THE GOLDEN RULE OF CAMPAIGNING:
Carry everything you need, and carry nothing but what you need.
By Zack Ziarnek
Edited by Ken Knopp
The items below are excellent “starters” or a good “basic” kit for the authentic Federal enlisted cavalryman. We all know, there are many inaccurate items of cheap and poor quality being sold today to the unwary public as “authentic”. Sadly, few really are. Even the finest sutlers in the business sell at least one product that is arguably poor in authenticity or quality. In addition, most of us carry far more than we need and perhaps most important far more than “they did”. Moreover, even for the most accomplished veteran reenactor there is no substitute for doing your own research or seeking advice from other experienced veterans. So, how do we start? Well, first lay out all the stuff you intend to take on the floor in front of you. Now decide what you really need, and leave the rest. Then eliminate half of that. Eventually, you will figure out what you can and can’t do without. Still not sure where to start? Okay, here is a place to begin…
*DON'T justify your current gear! Re-examine, re-think, research and perhaps- replace!!
UNIFORM: Note: For the right period look and fit it is imperative that one chooses high quality authentic clothing. Correct period patterns, buttons and cloth differentiates them from the Main stream articles. Hand sewn button holes, properly tapered sleeves or waist lines and, top stitching are important but some machine sewn articles are fine too, depending upon the article. Although they will advertise differently, most Sutler Row type clothing is made using altered patterns with synthetic or blended materials and modern dyes. Just a little reading or inquiries on the A/C can easily point one in the right direction when choosing clothing and makers. Buy right the first time and it will save you money, time, frustration and perhaps- embarrassment.
HEADWEAR: Proper period materials and construction. Reputable makers make for many choices today with a variety of features and linings. Brass service ornaments or company letters should be determined by event impression and time period of the war. Cowboys shapes, Hollywood copy-cats and hill-billy floppy hats are all embarrassingly inappropriate. Nothing ruins a good historic impression faster than a bad hat. Fitting your period hat to your head shape and personality is important so a serious study of period patterns is critical for your choice of hat.
Federal forage cap or 1858 Dress (Hardee) hat – either are correct as an issue item, and having both eventually is a good idea to round our impression for different periods of the war.
Civilian hats from reputable makers are also appropriate and encouraged. A genuine study of period patterns is critical for any of the above. Cowboys shapes, Hollywood copy-cats and hill-billy floppy hats are all embarrassingly inappropriate. Nothing ruins a good historic impression faster than a bad hat.
COATS & JACKETS:
Federal Mounted Services jacket – Twelve button front, stand up collar, etc. Common in both theaters of the war but perhaps more so in the east. If you go this route, materials, pattern, cut and trim is critical. Choose a good maker- generally NOT sutler-row. Trim is important. For example, yellow trim for cavalry should be a golden yellow, not neon bright. Always avoid synthetic fabrics or fabrics with a synthetic blend they tend to fade to a purplish hue.
Federal Fatigue (Sack) coat – Standard issue four button. The least expensive coat and most common in all branches of service; this was the mainstay of the Federal army. Again, materials and pattern is important. It can be lined or unlined, a good quality reproduction can be had for less than the cost of most sutler row mounted services jackets.
Greatcoat: Regulation Federal mounted (or infantry) sky blue pattern. An expensive item due to their use of a large amount of cloth and sewing however, finding a well made, authentic pattern is increasingly difficult and cost prohibitive. Confederate or civilian greatcoats/overcoats are generally not acceptable for Federal use.
Sky blue wool trousers – The "mounted" version, which has double thickness of material in the seat and thighs might be preferred but not necessary. One can readily substitute quality infantry pattern trousers. As always, avoid synthetics and synthetic blends.(Historical note on Federal trousers: General Order No. 3, March 24, 1858 changed the color from sky blue to dark blue. General Order No. 108, November 16, 1861 changed the color back to sky blue.)
Issue type shirt – The standard issue contract-made white muslin shirts are fine anywhere. Worn year round however, a great way to “individualize” your impression is to wear a civilian shirt…
Civilian Shirt – A period citizen pattern of cotton is a great choice. These were common enough that there isn’t much of an excuse not to have a good civilian shirt. You may want two, on campaign you can get ripe. Patterns vary widely. Research the period patterns then shop the good makers to find one that fits your own personality. There are too many people making these to list them all, if in doubt contact an approved A/C vendor or Veteran member.
Boots/Brogans: Standard issue 1851/1862 artillery/cavalry boot. Black waxed leather, two piece construction, about 12 inches high with either pegged or sewn soles. This pattern was issued in large numbers to cavalry and artillerymen. Good quality reproductions are readily available by several boot makers. Many cavalrymen were also issued and wore brogans or Jefferson bootees rather than boots. As brogans are usually cheaper than boots are, they are the choice of the budget conscious - and are usually more authentic than boots. Boots tend to be another over represented item among reenactors. Do NOT use modern cowboy or jack boots as a substitute- they are NOT.
HORSE EQUIPMENT: M1859 McClellan tack: A complete set of tack included: Halter, lead strap, link strap, bridle, girth, crupper, surcingle, 6 coat straps, watering bit with reins, carbine thimble, and saddle bags. In ALL cases please note the employment of good leather, proper stitching and hardware. Appearance is EVERYTHING!! There is NO SUBSTITUTE for using the correct quality of leather, tight stitching (6-9 stitches per inch) and proper hardware on ANY piece!! Here again, just a little reading or inquiries on the A/C can easily point one in the right direction when choosing products and makers. Buy right the first time and it will save you money, time, frustration and perhaps- embarrassment.
Saddle – The common issue saddle for enlisted troopers was the M1859 McClellan saddle, black leather (bridle, skirting leather dyed on only one side), with a natural rawhide seat. The “Ranger” saddle was issued to some troops early in the war but generally, other common citizen saddles are not appropriate for Federal troopers. Many officers used the Grimsley saddle or officer's modified McClellan saddles; also, some western states such as Illinois were issued them early war but replaced them as soon as regulation McClellan saddles were available. The use of the M1904 McClellan tree as a re-built M1859 in NOT appropriate!! The 04 tree shape, raw hiding and hardware are INCORRRECT!! Original McClellan’s still exist (many have been rebuilt); but some of today's horses tend to be larger (mutton withered and over weight), so many reproduction McClellan saddles have so-called "quarter horse bars" that are claimed to better fit such horses. In any event, be sure your saddle fits your horse before you ride it on a campaign! Six coat straps are used on McClellan saddles: three to hold a pommel roll in front and three to hold a cantle roll in back. Other correct and important C.W. period features on these saddles include hand sewn quarter straps/stirrup straps, six coat straps (bridle leather and 5/8's iron bar buckles), worsted blue wool girth with correct iron hardware, iron foot stands, iron D's (un-spaded best), iron rings stapled into the tree, correct iron bar buckles, and no toe kicks in the stirrup hoods. These saddles were slightly modified by regulation in 1864. CRITICAL: Use only the proper M1859 tree, correct vegetable tanned leather (bridle or skirting leather) everywhere (except harness leather “OK” only on quarter and stirrups straps) and, (IRON NOT brass) hardware!!
Bridle – Headstall (3 or 6 buckle), hand sewn reins and, the M1859 or M1863 McClellan military iron bit with iron or brass curb chain. Headstall should be proper bridle leather (not harness) dyed on one side only and employing the correct pattern iron (NEVER brass) bar buckles. Border States, and Glenn Pier offer the ‘59 bit in a variety of ports. Do NOT use the blackened or stainless steel variations of these found on the market! If your horse will not tolerate a military bit, try some other period type bit. Snaffles were very common.
Halter: The standard issue halter dated from the Dragoon era. It was made of strong bridle leather and employed five pieces of hardware including an iron bar buckle (1 ¼ inch interior width), two iron squares, an iron ring and iron halter bolt. NO BRASS!!
Lead: Six and one-half feet long with a 1 ¼ inch iron bar buckle.
*The use of the correct hardware is critical!!
Surcingle – These are made of worsted blue wool webbing, black dyed (one side) bridle leather and iron roller buckle. The surcingle is a wide, long strap that buckles all the way around the barrel of the horse and seat of your saddle. Safety rule: Never ride a McClellan without a surcingle! It provides additional security in event of a loose or broken girth.
Saddle blanket – M1851 blue 100% wool saddle blankets (75 x 67 inches) with woven-in orange stripes (and orange letters “U.S.” in the center) were standard Federal issue. Do NOT buy the light weight sutler row pattern with dyed orange stripes! Good quality ones are readily available. Use it on the horse, and you now have an extra blanket for yourself at night. Most of today’s horses are not ridden enough to become as tough skinned as a real cavalry horse; consequently saddle sores are a real risk on a campaign. You can put your bed blanket between the saddle and saddle blanket for extra cushioning. One should learn the proper way to fold the saddle blanket so that it looks correct on the horse's back (See Cooke's Cavalry Tactics (1861), Article Six, Manner of Saddling.
Saddlebags – The M1858 McClellan Saddlebags were standard issue and are useful when you are at an extended campaign type event; you live out of your saddlebags and bed roll. It has become more common for us not to sleep in the same place two nights in roll. Good quality bags are now made by several saddler's but watch out for cheap or heavy leather. Be sure to purchase a pair of quality bridle leather and correct iron bar buckle hardware (critical!). Do NOT use civilian bags!
Breast strap – The breast strap/breast-collar/martingale while occasionally a period civilian item were generally NOT issued with enlisted 59’ McClellan accouterments. However, some regiments that were issued Grimsley horse tack early in the war and used the Dragoon type breast-collar (avoid this!). Sadly, breast straps are far "over represented" on the field at events (NO brass hearts!!). If you prefer one study period patterns and hardware to have a saddler-made or, one of “field” make using period available scrap leather. A good and common substitute was to employ a surcingle.
*Crupper: A crupper was issued but can be skipped unless you have problems keeping your saddle in place on hilly terrain. A good fitting saddle will help reduce the need for the crupper and breast strap.
*Watering–Bit – An expensive item that seldom sees service. The idea of a watering bit is to always have a bit in the horse's mouth so that you can instantly jump on its back and respond to emergencies, while sparing the horse from always having the more severe military bit in its mouth. Good in theory but not often practiced. If you use a snaffle; you can cut the chains and toggles off these and use it as such. Watering bits are generally dead weight in the field. Originals are commonly found either un-issued or turn up discarded near a camp sites… that alone should say something.
*Optional items – While these were issued to the Federal trooper they were generally found to be less than necessary and so can be done away with if desired.
Grooming Equipments – Issue items were the brush and currycomb. The official issue brush was a (two piece) wooden back (approx. 9 x4 inches), Russia hair bristle item. However, leather back brushes were contracted too. Period type brushes of both makes can be found relatively easy. Many Civil War saddler's sell a replica wooden or leather handled oval brush. The gov't issued several patterns of curry combs. The most common was the “Y” pattern. To date, the only person reproducing proper Federal curry combs is Jan Berger of Germany, the supply will hold out as long as he does, but post war “Y” patterns are close and can still be found very cheap. Study the originals to find a comb that approximates the originals. Hoof picks were not an issue item but various hand forged iron patterns are found excavated from camp sites in large numbers. So, bring a hoof pick!
Nosebag – Made of strong linen or cotton duck with a leather bottom six inches in diameter and four inches deep. Overall height is 15 inches. A quality C.W. period canvas nosebag with leather bottom is available from several reproduction saddlers. There is an authenticity controversy whether the leather bottom was rounded when new, or was a flat leather bottom that became rounded from use. The nose bag can be carried in a couple different ways: hung over the front bedroll and hanging to either side of the horse or slipped over the end of the rear roll. A nosebag can serve as a great extra storage space. It also works well for foraging when not feeding your horse. WARNING: Nosebags do not have drain or vent holes, thus an unattended horse can choke on its feed or even drown if they have access to water.
Picket Pin & Rope – The issue picket pin was made of forged iron (often japanned) with the twisted iron ring for attaching the rope. Rope is always useful to the cavalryman in the field. One and ¼ inch by 30 foot Hemp is regulation although a smaller diameters are OK too. Several Civil War sutlers carry the “correct" 4 strand (as opposed to 3 strand) hemp lariats but it have an eye spliced on one end and whipped with twine on the other. Avoid rope of modern materials such as sisal (sisal is coarser than manila). The lariat makes a serviceable picket line in trees. Dispense with the pin unless your horse is well broke to this type of picketing BEFORE the event.
Carbine Socket or thimble. Black leather. An hour glass shaped piece of leather attached to McClellan saddle quarter strap D ring. The carbine socket holds the carbine muzzle when riding and keeps it from flopping and beating against your knee and your horse’s side. This item must have the proper ¾ inch bar buckle.
Spurs: The typical war time Federal issue brass spur with iron rowel. Very commonly available and reasonably priced by most sutlers. Spur straps are important. Black bridle leather with small 5/8's wide, period pattern, brass roller buckles differentiates the quality spur from the mainstream article.
Carbine: Various reproduction carbines can be found. The Sharp's is probably the best all around for availability, quality, durability and price. The table below represents the carbines and the numbers manufactured of each. They are listed in numerical value from most to least. I omitted any manufacture that did not run a minimum of 5,000 weapons.
As you can see the Sharps was by far numerically superior followed by the Spencer, the Burnside, the various Hall carbines and finally the Smith.
Spencer_______________Wartime_________Breech______ 56-56 Rimfire________80,000-
Burnside_______________Wartime_________Breech_____ _54 Percussion________54,000
US 1833 - 43 Hall________Pre-War_________Breech_____52, 58, 64 Perc._______31,666
Smith_________________Wartime_________Breech_____5 0 Percussion_________30,000+
Maynard_______________Wartime_________Breech_____3 5 & 50 Perc._________25,000
Starr_________________Wartime_________Breech_____5 4 Percussion_________20,601
Gallagher______________Wartime_________Breech_____ 50 Percussion_________18,000
Merrill_________________Wartime ________Breech_____54 Percussion_________14,495
Joslyn 1864____________Wartime________Breech_____52 Rimfire____________13,000
US 1847 Musketoon_____Pre-War________Muzzle______69 Percussion__________9,300
Ballard________________Wartime_________Breech____4 4 & 52 Rimfire_________8,400
Gwen & Campbell________Wartime_________Breech____52 Percussion__________8,200
Linder________________ Wartime_________Breech____58 Percussion__________6,500
Gallagher______________Wartime_________Breech____5 6-52 Rimfire___________5,000
As you can see there are very few carbines that are being reproduced for reenactors; of the top 5 only 3 have been reproduced to my knowledge. If you are shooting for the generic Western Federal Cavalry Trooper, go with an 1859 Sharps. Sure the Spencer is super cool, but the Sharps were more common through out the entire War and it’s half the price.
Pistol – Note: Authentic Federal Cavalryman should NEVER carry more than one pistol and NEVER had reload cylinders. This is a farb reenactorisim! Cavalrymen of the Civil War were not armed like the Outlaw Josey Wales, nor did they reload like Hollywood. Having one pistol and reloading each cylinder at a time will add to the realism, and may actually give you a few “panic” historical moments. The pistol of choice is the 1860 Colt Army (.44 caliber). A second choice is perhaps the reproduction 1858 Remington .44 caliber (best for mid-to-late war) or the 1851 Colt Navy, .36 cal. Stay away from the Colt .44 Navies! They did not exist! Others such as the 1858 Starr double action .44 cal. are cool, but will give you grief. Federal cavalry should not use brass frame revolvers of any pattern.
Saber – Use a reproduction – Either the 1860 Light Cavalry or an 1840 “Wrist Breaker” are the choices; Leave your original at home or save it for living histories. Here, craftsmanship and quality is important. Most sutler row sabers are cheap Pakistani's. For just a few dollars more you can buy a good one from a reputable maker that will be durable.
ACCOUTREMENTS: All vegetable tanned leather of either black buff, waxed or bridle leather dyed on one side only. Ask and avoid Pakistani and Mexican leather. Tight, 6-9 stitches per inch is recommended. Appropriate and correct period pattern hardware is a MUST!!! The quality of these items varies tremendously even among normally good sutlers. Buyer beware! Especially on Sutler Row. Do the research. Ask questions and get a guarantee.
Model 1851 Enlisted Saber Belt– issued to all mounted troops, complete with both full length saber straps and belt plate and hasp. A correct Model 1851 Saber Belt Plate should be complete with the one piece applied silver wreath. Preferably, the belt constructed of waxed flesh, black buff or harness leather with the properly un-dyed interior surface also known as one side black only. All of the fittings should be present, full form and solidly stitched to the body of the belt. It is up to individual troopers to decide whether or not to forgo the use of a so- called “Sam Browne” strap. Personally, if I did not use this strap, the weight of the cap pouch, pistol box, pistol and holster will drag the saber belt down to my hips, making it impossible for me to keep my saber belt at my natural waist where it should be worn! If you need one use it, if not, then don’t bother with it.
Cap Box: Must be one of the several Federal patterns. Make sure the wool interior is of high quality and secured inside the box.
Cartridge Box: Federal Sharp’s or other carbine pattern or infantry patterns acceptable. Pistol boxes acceptable but not necessary.
Carbine Slings: Federal pattern of black bridle leather (not harness leather) with brass tip and buckle and, regulation iron snap swivel. Be careful! Some sutler row snap swivels are junk and do not last.
Canteen– By far the preferred canteen is a hot dipped tin smooth side (M1858) Federal canteen. Stainless steel (however appealing) is not authentic as it did not yet exist. Wool cover colors are tan and grey preferred, blue accepted. Avoid using the short leather strap and a clip to attach it to a ring on the saddle - this practice is of questionable authenticity to the 1860’s. A long strap that allows you to hang the canteen over your shoulder, with the canteen next to your side at waist level (not hip level) is the preferred practice. The higher it rides on your body, the less it bangs around. Either purchase one that does not use the chain stopper attachment or replace the chain on the stopper with a piece of hemp cord, it looks better and is more authentic (Canteens made at the New York Depot were the only ones with chain attachments).
Haversack – Black, tarred or enameled canvas cloth with an interior canvas ration bag (with bone button). A good haversack is invaluable for food supplies, your knife fork and plate. Please don’t carry personal items such as your Bible, family picture, etc. in here. A haversack tended to get really nasty inside and valuable items were not placed at such risks. A haversack can be worn on the man or hung on the horse. I hang mine across from my nosebag as a counter balance. Among most sutler row variety; the shoulder strap is usually too long. It should ride high on the body, with the top near the natural waist.
Blanket (sleeping/bed roll) – The regulation Federal issue blanket was approximately 7” x 5 ½’ and had a weight if approximately 7 lbs. Correct size, weave and weight are all factors to consider. The best period correct blankets that have been made were 1) the National Historic Society’s Denmark blanket circa 1985, 2) the Federal Issue Blanket by Charlie Childs circa 1993, 3) the Auggie Weisert by the Wisconsin Veterans Museum circa 1996, 4) the Abe Thomas, by Quartermaster Woolens, and 5) the Woodburn-Mount Blanket by Matt Woodburn and Pat Cline (Family Heirlooms Weavers). These are all getting extremely hard to find! The NHS and CC blankets are both based off the original US blanket in the Royal Denmark Museum. It was a part of the arms exchange in the late 1800’s. The other three are all very similar in look and authenticity. Until you find one of these treasures use a decent quality, gray or light brown “emergency issue” blanket. Usually these blankets have no stitching of the US in the middle and the ends are machine surged. The US can be hand chain stitched and the ends either sewn over or re-stitched by hand for a much better appearance. Please make sure that your blanket is a 100% wool reproduction. Place your bed blanket under the saddle and over the saddle-blanket. It adds cushion to the saddle and saves room on your pommel and cantle.
Gum Blanket: Federal contract type black rubberized canvas (or linen) gum blanket with small brass grommets preferred. Black rubberized poncho accepted. Due to the danger in their manufacture, these are getting increasingly difficult and expensive to find.
Tents: The common shelter half to buddy up with your pard, cover yourself and your gear in the rain or use as a ground cloth. Multiple uses! Quality varies like everything else.
Housewife – A “must” campaigner item! Small or large sewing kit for carrying needles, thread, patch material, and a few extra buttons. These also are available through many A/C approved vendors.
Plate/fork/knife/spoon – A variety of issue type and authentic folding or combination sets are available. Poke around in the local antique shop and you can normally find a correct wooden handled, three tine fork and knife. Sometimes sutler row will actually have original antiques for sale but at a somewhat inflated price.
Suspenders/Braces/Belt: Period issue trousers should employ suspenders of period issue construction and materials or common civilian patterns. Note: the wide white canvas (or yellow) suspenders should be avoided. Elastic suspenders were invented but NOT common.
Underwear: Military issue undergarmets are preferred or civilian. A great “touch” to your impression! Modern underwear is unacceptable.
Socks: Correct hand knitted period patterns are difficult and expensive to obtain. Reproduction knitted socks should at least be of wool or cotton. No synthetics!
Eye glasses: Only period pattern eye wear of brass or iron wire accepted. Do the research! If your prescription requires a thick lens perhaps contact lenses are better.
Tobacco: Most men of the period chewed tobacco, smoked a pipe or occasionally used snuff. Some of the wealthier smoked cigars. If you use tobacco then choose one of these methods for your habitual preferences. Modern cigarettes are NOT acceptable.